You have now been nominated for your exchange semester at the International Office of your host university. If you have not completed an online form or a hard copy application from the host institution you will soon receive correspondence from your host coordinator. It is important to comply with all parts of the application procedure of the host university. Be sure to hand in any documents that the host university requests and complete all online forms.
SU International will provide assistance with the application process and all the arrangements for your exchange. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance from either the host university or your home coordinator.
Your passport is your most important document whilst abroad. It is your legal form of identification and it is very important that you have it with you at all times.
If you do not have a passport, apply IMMEDIATELY! Also note that the Department of Home Affairs discontinued the issuing of temporary passports. Apply at the Department of Home Affairs. You can now apply online.
If you do have a valid passport, check that you have enough open pages for visa(s) and that the validity of your passport allows for the whole period of exchange and complies with the requirements of the host country. For some countries a six month period after departure from host country is necessary. Check this with your travel agent or the relevant consulate/embassy.
Super user tip: Make PDF / electronic copies of your passport and visas. Leave also copies with a family member or a significant other.
In most cases you will need a student visa (study permit) for your exchange. Documentation is the key in obtaining a visa. Your host university will issue a letter of admission. This letter is VITAL to your visa application.
Proof of funds is another very important aspect for all visa applications. You will need bank statements (or letter from your bank), proof of bursary or another form of proof of funding. The amount of funds will differ from country to country. Carefully check the requirements provided by the host coordinator and embassy.
Always consult the respective country representative to get the most up to date requirements.
The duration of the visa is also important. Be sure to find out how to include a period of travel before or after your exchange (if you want to do some extra travelling).
Also make sure what the restriction of your study permit is i.e travelling to countries outside the EU, part time work, etc.
A few bits and pieces on different visa applications:
USA exchanges: Your host university will issue a DS 2019 form and you will apply for a J1 type visa. This is a visa specifically for study purposes. The DS 2019 form must be submitted with other supporting documents and completed forms during your visa interview. The complete procedure for obtaining a visa is explained on the website of the United States Embassy.
In the case of the Netherlands: All Dutch institutions apply for student visas on behalf of the student. Please follow the instructions of your host institution very carefully. The cost of this visa (called a MVV) is very high. The host institution will provide information on the method of payment. It will however enable you to travel within Europe (all Schengen countries) hassle free as it has the same status as a residence permit.
Most other European countries: You will apply for a Long-stay visa. The exact documentation and requirements will depend on the host country.
For exact details on visa application procedures for your host country, please consult the nearest embassy or consulate. SU International can assist with visa applications, but due to frequent changes in procedure and requirements, it is best to liaise directly with the embassy or consulate and to stay in close contact with your host coordinator.
In almost all cases you will need a return air ticket to enter the country. Be sure to check your dates before departure and find out if it is possible to change the return date of your ticket. Check the terms and conditions of your ticket very carefully before paying.
Make sure your name reflects correctly on your flight ticket; it must correspond with the name in your passport.
When buying your ticket keep the arrival time in mind and be sure to know how long it will take from the airport to your accommodation. This can have an impact on your decision.
Be sure to allow enough time if you have connecting flights. Changing terminals can take time and result in you missing a flight.
There are a number of useful websites when searching for flight options:
You can also visit the different carriers’ websites. You will be able to play around with different date combinations and routes.
Another option is to visit one of the local travel agents used by the University: Maties Travel or Neelsie Travel. Both these agencies will be able to assist you with flights and travel insurance.
Shop around when looking for a ticket and always ask for special deals or student discounts.
It is very important that you are on time for your international flight. Arrive at least 2-3 hours prior to departure. This will allow enough time for your baggage check-in, security checks and passport clearance. Book in early and relax. You can rather spend time in the departure lounge or browse the duty free shop than run around and get yourself in a panic or worse, miss your flight.
Prepare for yourself beforehand for the check-in procedures at the respective airport. It will just make the airport experience less stressful.
See the Definitive Airport Check-in Guide from travelstart.co.za.
Cool article from the Hufftington Post in terms of how to navigate an airport dury busy times.
A “travel uniform” refers to the clothes you are wearing while you are travelling. The key here is to think of comfort, and how your clothing can help you to have a more comfortable and efficient travel experience. The requirements of comfortability and efficiency should not exclude one another, but rather reinforce one another. For example, it is not to your benefit to wear very fashionable clothing, but it causes you to have problems at the security checks of the different airports and makes the whole check-in process cumbersome and frustrating. It is therefore not a good idea to wear very fashionable boots if it takes 10 minutes to take them off for the security check. So think about your “travel inform”, and plan appropriately.
This will most likely be your biggest expense if it is not covered by your scholarship or the agreement between Stellenbosch University and the host institution. University accommodation is in most cases less expensive than finding private accommodation. University accommodation will also bring you in direct contact with local students. Very often universities group international students together. This will immediately provide you with a community to settle in. Be sure to check with your host coordinator about housing and be sure that you have reserved accommodation before your departure.
Proof of accommodation will most likely also be necessary to obtain a visa. Information concerning proof of accommodation for the use of the visa application will be available from the relevant embassy or consulate.
Clever packing can save you a lot of trouble and money. Although you might be tempted to take everything from your tooth brush to the kitchen sink, you have to keep in mind that your host country will have shops and that you will be able to buy most of the things that you need. So don’t pack your mom’s spachelor!
Bathroom essentials (shampoo, cream, etc) take up a lot of space and weight. Take small containers that will last you long enough to get to a shop (about stock for one week).
Be sure to check the baggage allowance of your carrier and the restrictions to the number of pieces and size of luggage (both check-in and hand luggage). Also check the restrictions with regards to liquids in your hand luggage.
Mark your luggage clearly. You want to be sure that you do not take somebody else’s black wheeled suitcase. Use a bright piece of ribbon or sticker and make sure that you put your name and a contact number on your luggage as well so that you (or somebody else) can be reached in case of loss or theft.
Super user tip: Roll your clothing, don’t fold your clothing when you pack your suitcase.
Some more tips:
Suitcases vs. Backpacks, cool article by Lifehacker
The Best Gear for Travel from The Wirecutter
Something fun: What is in Matt Mullenweg’s bag?